Negotiation, mediation and subjectivities:
How migrant renters experience informal rentals in Gurgaon’s urban villages
Keywords: urban village, migration, landlordism, informal renting
The population of Gurgaon, a city of an estimated 2.5 million people located south of India’s capital Delhi and within the National Capital Region, grew by 73.9 percent in 2001-2011. While Gurgaon’s private sector housing market attracted educated migrants, residents of urban villages built rental housing for low-income migrant workers. Based on qualitative fieldwork conducted in Nathupur village in 2013 and Sikanderpur village in 2017, this paper focuses on the experience of low-income migrant renters in the informal rental markets that are controlled and managed by village landlords. It focuses on living conditions, sense of security and the nature of tenant-landlord relationships. Despite the dominance of landlords, I posit that migrants mediate their housing choices as per their migration strategy and leverage oral contracts to move flexibly through rental housing in different locations at different times. Further, by characterising landlords as benevolent, renters keep their opportunities for employment and reward open while potentially exerting reputational pressures on landlords through criticism of their exploitative practices. Lastly, migrant renters challenge social norms set by landlords by everyday acts of resistance. These strategies of mediation, negotiation and subjectivities enable rural migrants to establish a relationship, however tenuous, with the city and maximise their returns from it.